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Words of Wisdom

Thoughts on Taoism by the Reverend Thomas Merton (vegetarian), Part 2 of 2



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We now continue with excerpts from Thomas Merton’s chapter on Taoism from his book “Thoughts on the East.” “My opinion is that you never find happiness until you stop looking for it. My greatest happiness consists precisely in doing nothing whatever that is calculated to obtain happiness: and this, in the minds of most people, is the worst possible course. I will hold to the saying that: ‘Perfect joy is to be without joy. Perfect praise is to be without praise.’” “Contentment and well-being at once become possible the moment you cease to act with them in view, and if you practice non-doing (wu wei), you will have both happiness and well-being. ‘Here is how I sum it up: Heaven does nothing: Its non-doing is Its serenity. Earth does nothing: Its non-doing is Its rest. From the union of these two non-doings All actions proceed, All things are made. How vast, how invisible This coming-to-be!’” “All things come from nowhere! How vast, how invisible - No way to explain it! All beings in their perfection Are born of non-doing. Hence it is said: ‘Heaven and earth do nothing Yet there is nothing they do not do.’” “Where is the man who can attain To this non-doing?” Where is Tao? “Tao is Great in all things, Complete in all, Universal in all, Whole in all. These three aspects Are distinct, but the Reality is One. Therefore come with me To the palace of Nowhere Where all the many things are One: There at last we might speak Of what has no limitation and no end. Come with me to the land of Non-Doing: What shall we there say — that Tao Is simplicity, stillness, Indifference, purity, Harmony and ease? All these names leave me indifferent For their distinctions have disappeared. My will is aimless there. If it is nowhere, how should I be aware of it? If it goes and returns, I know not Where it has been resting. If it wanders Here then there, I know not where it will end. The mind remains undetermined in the great Void. Here the highest knowledge Is unbounded. That which gives things Their thusness cannot be delimited by things. So when we speak of limits we remain confined To limited things. The limit of the unlimited is called ‘fullness.’ The limitlessness of the limited is called ‘emptiness.’ Tao is the source of both. But it is itself Neither fullness nor emptiness. Tao produces both renewal and decay, But is neither renewal or decay. It causes being and non-being But is neither being nor non-being. Tao assembles and it destroys, But it is neither the Totality nor the Void.”
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